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IFa welcomes forestry budget decision

The retention of funding for the forestry sector in the Budget has been broadly welcomed in the sector.

There had been fears that supports to the industry would face serious cuts.

However, the total allocation for next year has been set at €112m, just €2m back on last year.

Pat Hennessy, of the IFA's forestry committee, said the maintenance of funding for the forestry programme was an acknowledgement of the contribution of the sector to the economy and its increasingly important role in rural development.

He said the industry's value in 2010 was estimated to be more than €2.8bn.

Mr Hennessy added the protection of the forest premiums should help to restore confidence in the Afforestation Scheme, which was severely damaged by the forest premium cuts in the 2009 budget.

However, he said that if the sector was to achieve the afforestation targets, the Government must guarantee there will be no further cuts to forest premiums.

"The issue of confidence in the scheme needs to be addressed if there is any chance of achieving future afforestation targets. Many farmers are not willing to commit land to forestry when uncertainty exists in relation to forest premiums," said Mr Hennessy.

To ensure sustainable future timber supply for the wood processing and wood energy sectors, an afforestation programme of 15,000ha was required, he said. Next year's budget allows for an afforestation programme of less than 7,000ha.

However, Mr Hennessy was critical of the cut to support programmes for forestry. The Forestry Roads Programme has seen such a cut, with the rate of support reduced from €45/m to €35/m.

"The budgetary priority should have focused on maximising the potential of the existing resource through increased supports for forest roads and the introduction of supports for forest owner groups," Mr Hennessy claimed.

Meanwhile, the Irish Forestry and Forest Products Association (IFFPA), the IBEC section that represents the entire forest industry chain, has also welcomed the maintenance of the forestry programme.

IFFPA director Marian Byron said: "We look forward to ... ensuring efficient and effective delivery of the investment programme and to ensure early planning for 2013.

"The industry has demonstrated the capacity to develop export markets, generate a wood energy resource and create sustainable regional employment. The realisation of Government afforestation targets, infrastructure development, and a supportive regulatory framework will facilitate the continued growth of the sector."

Declan O'Brien

Indo Farming